|Posted on September 4, 2012 at 1:40 AM|
(Author's note: I try to keep things inappropriately snarky and acerbic on this site, but I decided to dial it back a notch for this post. This does absolutely not represent a more mature me, however.)
There's a picture that's been making the rounds on the various social sites lately. I've ignored it, but it just keeps a comin'. I know it doesn't pay to get bunched panties about every single ignorant post that people make because they eventually fade away and because I don't want to be the guy that spends the entire day debating people. This one doesn't seem to be in any hurry to piss off though.
And if your parents can afford cable television and central air, you don't need student financial aid.
This picture perfectly reinforces the "God helps those who help themselves" mindset. I don't for a second believe that every social conservative is a heartless asshole, but there's a quote by Michael Parenti that goes "Conservatives are fond of telling us what a wonderful, happy, prosperous nation this is. The only thing that matches their love of country is the remarkable indifference they show toward the people who live in it" that I think is pretty apropos here. I wonder if the people who like this picture really believe that a smoker should have their welfare benefits immediately revoked.
A pack of smokes costs about $5.50, a six pack of cheap beer isn't much more. Feeding a family of four costs about $150 to $175 a week if a person is thrifty. A person working full-time and making minimum wage earns about $290 a week before taxes. Even with two working adults in a family, that's not enough to live on once you factor in housing, travel (car, gas, insurance), utilities, childcare, etc. Is a hardcore conservative really going to tell a person that they can't splurge on a pack of Pall Malls and an Old Milwaukee if they get government assistance? Should a person on welfare not be able to spend money on a little personal luxury or vice? A minimum wage employee may not have enough money to buy groceries, but they may have enough to buy a pack of cigarettes. After all, that $5.50 pack of heaters represents a whopping 3.6% of their $150 food budget.
Yes, I know that smokers generally buy more than 1 pack a week, but my point is that not treating oneself to a bad habit isn't going to automatically put the family budget in the black. The idea that welfare recipients love being on assistance because it frees up money for lottery tickets and heroin is just stupid. Thinking "If they'd just spend their money better, they wouldn't need help" betrays an insidious kind of classism and a frightening lack of empathy. Maybe a pull on a cigarette is the one thing that a working mom has to keep her calm in between working a thankless job at a fast food restaurant and taking night classes at the local vo-tech.
And that's another thing. The whole "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" theory fails to take into account just how short those bootstraps are. Tuition at a public college is around $7,000 a year for a two-year school and $15,000 a year at a four-year school, on average. That means that earning a Bachelor's Degree costs more than a person makes before taxes at a full-time minimum wage job. In order to better themselves, a poor person has to go in debt first. That's like saying that a drowning person should swim down and put both hands on the floor of the ocean before they try coming up for air. It's easy to get judgy about those lazy food stamp moms when you don't have to wade through a sea of "Final Notice" envelopes every time you open your mailbox.
The idea of drug-testing welfare applicants is sad to me, especially if testing positive means they are on their own. Does having a parent with a drug problem mean that the kids don't get to eat? Poverty is a subtle and nuanced problem that demands something a little more grown-up than an "all or nothing" answer. Are there people who take advantage of the system? Of course there are, but there are corrupt cops and arsonist firefighters too – they are the exception that proves the rule, not the other way around. Look, the current welfare system is far from perfect, but making blanket statements about the people who rely on it does nothing to make it better.
I'm not completely OK with the idea that a person can cash advance their EBT card and I don't like seeing assistance used to buy junk food, but I have to remember that maybe a frozen pizza and a juice box is all the cooking that a working parent has time for in between jobs. How do I know that the couple buying hot dogs and potato chips isn't trying to find food that their kids can prepare themselves because Mom and Dad are at work when supper time rolls around? I doubt that they're buying stuff that's fast and easy because they just don't feel like preparing a four course meal using fresh ingredients from the Farmer's Market. Shitty food is cheaper and easier than the wholesome stuff in this country.
What really is disheartening about that picture is the number of people who claim to be good Christians that like and share it. I guess that 'feed the hungry, clothe the poor' bit doesn't apply if you think they aren't trying hard enough to be the millionaires we are all destined to be. I know I've already warned against making blanket generalizations, but it does seem that it's the conservatives who post opinions like the one above the most frequently. Since the Republican party is the one most directly ran by the Christian Right, it isn't really a stretch to call them out for falling so far short of their religious ideals.
Perhaps what bothers me most is that there is an underlying feeling in posts like these that poor people should be shamed whenever possible and reminded of the fact that they are unabashedly sucking on the teet of government instead of becoming job creators. They should never have anything close to comfort until they start being better 'Mericans. In my experience, however, I have rarely seen someone using food stamps in a flaunting way. Instead, they seem to do it as inconspicuously as possible since - this is a shocker - those lazy poor people don't actually like the fact that they have to take hand-outs in order to survive.